FOUR out of five teachers at the sharp end of the Government's zero tolerance approach to school failure believe the policy works.
Nearly 80 per cent of teachers and 89 per cent of heads admit that their struggling schools improved after being put on special measures by inspectors.
However, the largest survey of staff at special measures schools, published today, also reveals that teachers' stress levels are soaring.
More than one third of such schools report a rise in staff illness. One in two heads can expect to move to a new job or leave the profession should their school fail an inspection by the Office for Standards in Education.
The National Union of Teachers, which commissioned the survey, wants to use it to persuade the Government to pursue a "more positive" strategy.
But its results may hearten ministers, who only this year have extended their tough-minded inspection approach to failing colleges.
John Bangs, assistant secretary of the National Union of Teachers, admitted that most schools improve after being placed on special measures.
He said: "It is almost inevitable that the increased resources and enormous pressure that are placed on schools under special measures will get results.
"But these human costs, which have not been quantified before, are unacceptable. There has to be a better way of bringing about improvement than this. This is a blunderbuss approach to improving schools."
The survey, by Margaret Scanlon of the National Foundation for Educational Research, compared the experiences of heads and teachers at 451 schools which were on the special measures register in 1998 with those at a control group of 482 schools.
Some 229 of 294 teachers at schools in special measures - 78 per cent - believed that the critical OFSTED inspection had im-proved the quality of education at their school. In non-special measures schools, the figure was only 37 per cent. And 60 per cent of teachers claimed pupils' results had improved.
However, 58 per cent of teachers said that staff morale had fallen as a result of a negative inspection. Since 1993, 372 of the 875 schools placed under special measures have been reclassified as no longer failing while 59 have closed.
Three out of five teachers in special measures schools reported feeling stressed most or all of the time, compared with 36 per cent in other schools.
Some 38 per cent of schools under special measures reported a rise in staff absences owing to stress or illness in the six months after the inspection.
Staff turnover was also much higher in special measures schools. Some 49 per cent of heads at the surveyed special measures schools had been recruited since the inspection.
The report concludes: "The contrast between declining staff morale and improvements in standards in education was one of the main findings of the research."
Most teachers believed there were more effective ways of improving schools than the special measures system.
"The impact of OFSTED inspections", email: NUT.firstname.lastname@example.org or write to EEO Department, NUT, Hamilton House, Mabledon Place, London, WC1H 9BD.